When Is A Suspension Not A Suspension?

Seems suspensions are popping up all over the place in sport these days.  Maybe the athletes just don’t understand that their actions have consequences or they don’t watch ESPN anymore and see their athlete-brothers getting suspended for acts such as DWI, PEDs or just about anything that flies in the face of the name of sport.

I am not sure where this all went wrong but it seems like everyday I turn on ESPN I see another report about an athlete being told by his team or the league that he is no longer welcomed for a certain period of time.  This past week three news stories seem to be breaking all at the same time and it struck me.  It was as if they (the leagues or governing boards or organizations) were saying to the athlete we don’t like your conduct but we cannot punish you because it may cause an issue with us.

What three events am I talking about?  Here are the stories that got me thinking that the suspensions that are handed out these days are nothing more than warnings:

  1. Casey Pachall:  TCU starting QB who was charged with DWI was suspended by head coach Gary Patterson.  The suspension was an indefinite suspension meaning there certainly was a start date (Thursday) but no end in sight.
  2. Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt (New Orleans Saints):  All suspended by the NFL for different lengths of time due to the bounty gate scandal they were a part of.  The NFL gave them a start and an end date and told them they would have no contact with the team during that time.
  3. Lance Armstrong:  Suspended by the USADA from participating in events sanctioned by them or by governing bodies that they sanction while he is being investigated.

Source: ESPN

While Casey Pachall was told he was suspended he was also given the ability to dress in his uniform and be with his teammates on the sidelines.  How in the world is this a punishment for what he did?  He violated team rules and the law and yet his payment to ‘society’ in the eyes of Coach Patterson is to be able to fully dress on game day?  Now, unless Coach Patterson has the utmost strength what is to stop him from playing Pachall should there be a game that is important to the destiny of the 2012 Horned Frogs?  What if the Big 12 title was at stake and his team was losing 24-22 with 2:00 to go in the game and the best chance they had at winning and for Coach Patterson to vault TCU into a title game lay in the hands of ‘suspended’ Pachall?  Would he not play him?  Maybe he wouldn’t but isn’t he leaving a lot up to the inner strength he may have to look the other way when Pachall walked past him on the sideline in this instance?

To me the situation is as simple as you are suspended so hang up your shoulder pads and watch the game from the stands.  Learn your lesson and realize what you have done to your future and the future of the team, but beyond what you COULD have done had you had a car accident while driving drunk.  Maybe mandate that he attend alcohol awareness classes and give speeches to high school kids about the dangers of driving drunk and their potential outcomes.  Either way if you suspend a player it should be just that:  a suspension from the team and not a slap on the wrist.


Source: NFL

The New Orleans Saints suspensions are different from TCU in that these are coaches and the General Manager of the team and not the star quarterback.  In addition to that we have a situation in which a player (Drew Brees) emailed the commissioner of the National Football League (Roger Goodell) to allow Payton, Vitt and Loomis to be in attendance when he broke the record of 48 straight games with a touchdown pass held by Johnny Unitas.  Mr. Goodell allowed that to happen and the three men suspended were in attendance yesterday for the game and I’m sure the team was thrilled as were the fans, but is this the right message?

Here is the NFL that pursued the bounty gate scandal with a passion because it wants to protect player safety and this type of situation is not to be tolerated.  The problem is that the minute a record was being broken on a Sunday night game with no other games being played and all the eyeballs on this game the Commissioner relented and allowed these three gentleman to be in attendance without being able to contact the team.  Now lets be honest here, the coaches and the GM have been in contact with the team some way some how through this entire ordeal so this relief of the suspension seems to be nothing more than a good PR move.  Why a PR move?  Well the Saints have not played well all season to date presumably because their Head Coach and Asst Head Coach have been away from the team, but also because the Super Bowl is being played in New Orleans in 3 months and 26 days (thanks for that reminder Fox) and getting some good publicity might allow him to save face should the Saints not even sniff the playoffs.  Again, if you are suspending people stick to the suspension.

And lastly the Lance Armstrong situation.  Please save me the rhetoric of innocent until proven guilty because the USADA has rules and all athletes know the rules when they get involved with sport and if they don’t then shame on them.  Save me the rhetoric of doing it for cancer too because there are ways for him to help raise funds for Livestrong and the Ulman Foundation without participating in the event.

The USADA and thus the USAT have essentially suspended Lance Armstrong from participating in events in which these governing bodies and other governing bodies under the USADA are involved.  Does this mean that he can participate in events not under this umbrella?  Yes, but here is where the issue of the suspension not being a suspension came into play.  This past weekend he participated in an event that was originally sanctioned by the USAT thus not allowing him to race.  The organizers of the event decided to remove themselves from the USAT umbrella to allow him to race and thus circumventing his suspension.

Now much has been said and will continue to be said about how and why this happened but lets stick to the point of this post and that is getting around a suspension and not following that suspension.  What kind of message does this send to other athletes?  Does it say to them that if they are suspended but carry a big enough brand that it is not really a big deal?  Does it say that regardless of governing body we will find a way to work around it?  What happened to a suspension being a suspension?

If you are a parent and you punish your child for two weeks with no TV do you allow that punishment to be lifted because the Disney channel is showing a premier of a movie the child has been wanting to watch?  If your kid comes home school with all C’s and you punish them by not allowing them to go out do you then turn around and allow them to go to a dance the next weekend?  I don’t know what you would do but I know that I would not allow this.  If you are punished (or suspended in sports) then that is that.  I have made a decision and I have stuck to it and you will be a better person in two weeks because you will know that I am not playing games.  If I allowed that child to go to the dance the message would be:  I know you screwed up and I recognize that but go ahead and have fun anyway.

What Do You Think Of Suspensions In Sports Today?


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  1. Scott says:

    Having been able to play at the collegiate level, I can tell you that there are 2 sets of rules, the rules for the average folks and the rules for the elite, I guarantee if the 3rd string right guard was busted for DWI, he would have been dismissed from the team, immediately, But since the starting QB is in the elite atheltes level (aka best given chance to win) they have different sets of rules. Same for Lance, Rev3 wouldnt change their rules for us, they used Lance to spring their business into the spotlight.

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